Malaysia Airlines plane: 239 feared dead as search for missing Boeing 777 reveals two oil slicks in the Gulf of Thailand

Two passengers on the plane were travelling on stolen passports

Beijing

Flight MH370 to Beijing was, by all accounts, unremarkable until it vanished. A little over two hours out of Kuala Lumpur, as passengers – including five children under six and a group of 24 Chinese artists – attempted to sleep on the overnight "red eye", the Boeing 777 disappeared from radar screens without any indication it had experienced technical problems.

In the Chinese capital, almost six hours went by as friends and families of the 227 passengers on board, from 14 different countries, were told the Malaysia Airlines flight was "delayed". Then, what had been apparent for many hours was finally confirmed yesterday: all the passengers, and 12 crew, were feared dead. The youngest passenger on board was a US citizen, Yan Zhang, aged two.

The only remains of the Boeing 777-200 jet were two oil slicks in the Gulf of Thailand, spotted by the Vietnamese Air Force. One slick off the southern tip of Vietnam was reported to be 12 miles long. They were both said to be consistent with what would be expected from fuel left by a crashed airliner.

According to reports, the flight was "stable" at 35,000ft half way between Kuala Lumpur and Ho Chi Minh City at around 1.30am before it disappeared off the radar where the South China Sea meets the Gulf of Thailand. Sources in China said radar data suggested a "steep and sudden descent" of the aircraft.

 

Malaysia Airlines' chief executive, Ahmad Jauhari Yahya, said there was no indication that the pilots had sent a distress signal, suggesting whatever happened to the plane occurred quickly. Lai Xuan Thanh, director of Vietnam's civil aviation authority, said air traffic officials there never made contact with the plane.

The airliner "lost all contact and radar signal one minute before it entered Vietnam's air traffic control", said Lieutenant General Vo Van Tuan, deputy chief of staff of the Vietnamese Army.

Some 15 aircraft and nine ships were involved in the search for the wreckage yesterday, with the area of the sea operation being enlarged. However, there had been little sign of a crash other than the oil slicks. "We are doing everything in our power to locate the plane," Malaysia's acting transport minister, Hishammuddin Hussein, told reporters. "Today, all Malaysians stand in solidarity with those on flight MH370 and their loved ones," said the Malaysian Prime Minister, Najib Razak.

Territorial disputes over the South China Sea were temporarily set aside as China dispatched two rescue ships and the Philippines deployed three airforce planes and three navy patrol ships. "In times of emergencies like this, we have to show unity of efforts that transcends boundaries and issues," said Lt Gen Roy Deveraturda, commander of the Philippine military's Western Command.

The unease surrounding the mysterious crash was increased yesterday by the revelation that two names listed on the flight manifest matched passports reported stolen in Thailand, according to officials in Rome and Vienna. Luigi Maraldi, an Italian man whose name was listed as being on board, was not on the flight, and had reported his passport stolen last August.

The Austrian foreign ministry confirmed that a name listed on the manifest matched an Austrian passport reported stolen two years ago in Thailand. There was only one Austrian on the passenger list: Christian Kozel, aged 30.

Relatives of people on board the plane are surrounded by press as the tragedy unfolds Relatives of people on board the plane are surrounded by press as the tragedy unfolds Meanwhile, relatives of the 152 Chinese nationals waited anxiously for news at the Lido hotel in Beijing, as China's leaders called for speedy and vigorous search and rescue efforts to locate the aircraft. The flight was due to arrive in the city at 6.30am local time yesterday.

President Xi Jinping ordered China's ministry of foreign affairs as well as Chinese embassies and consulates to strengthen contact with departments of relevant countries and pay close attention to the search and rescue work for the plane, the Chinese Xinhua news agency reported. "All-out efforts must be made for any emergency treatment necessary in the aftermath of the incident," President Xi said.

Anxiety is running high in China. Yesterday's crash came less than a week after 33 people were killed by 10 knife-wielding assailants in Kunming railway station in a coordinated terror attack. This was blamed on separatists from the province of Xinjiang.

The 227 plane passengers included 38 Malaysians, seven Indonesians, six Australians, five Indians, four French and three Americans. Jessie Yee Wai Ching was supposed to be on board the flight but missed it after getting the wrong departure time. She told the Malaysian television channel Astro Awani: "I feel blessed and like I'm the lucky one, but it still doesn't overcome the awful feeling that I have for the people on that flight. I believe I've been given a second chance."

The arrivals board at Beijing The arrivals board at Beijing Chinese media reports were highly critical of the airline for waiting hours to say the plane was missing and not holding a news conference for almost 13 hours after the plane went off the radar. Relatives complained about the slow flow of information. "They're treating us worse than dogs," said one. There were reports that the plane had crashed into waters off Vietnam's southern Phu Quoc Island, which were subsequently rejected.

Malaysia Airlines has a good safety record, as does the 777, which had not had a fatal crash in its 19-year history until an Asiana Airlines plane crashed in San Francisco in 2013, killing three passengers. "Boeing offers its deepest concern to the families of those aboard Malaysia Airlines flight MH370," said the company in a statement. "Boeing is assembling a team to provide technical assistance to investigating authorities."

Lost at sea

Yesterday's mysterious downing of an airliner was compared to a crash in June 2009, when Air France Flight 447, an Airbus 300, travelling from Rio de Janeiro to Paris, crashed into the Atlantic killing all 216 passengers and 12 crew. The flight disappeared mid-ocean, beyond radar coverage and in total darkness, causing Air France to take six hours to concede its loss. No other airliner has vanished so completely in modern times. A report in 2012 found that a combination of technical faults and human error led to the crash. Heavy turbulence caused air-speed sensors to malfunction while the captain was taking a rest break and the plane began to stall. Investigators finally discovered the debris in 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Sport
England's women celebrate after their 3rd place play-off win against Germany
Women's World CupFara Williams converts penalty to secure victory and bronze medals
Arts and Entertainment
Ricardo by Edward Sutcliffe, 2014
artPortraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb go on display
News
newsHillary Clinton comments on viral Humans of New York photo of gay teenager
Arts and Entertainment
The gang rape scene in the Royal Opera’s production of Gioachino Rossini’s Guillaume Tell has caused huge controversy
music
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Spanish Speaking

£17000 - £21000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - German Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Administrator - Japanese Speaking

£17000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: If you are fluent in Japanese a...

Recruitment Genius: Graphic Designer - Immediate Start

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is a fantastic opportunity...

Day In a Page

The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy
Number of young homeless in Britain 'more than three times the official figures'

'Everything changed when I went to the hostel'

Number of young homeless people in Britain is 'more than three times the official figures'
Compton Cricket Club

Compton Cricket Club

Portraits of LA cricketers from notorious suburb to be displayed in London
London now the global money-laundering centre for the drug trade, says crime expert

Wlecome to London, drug money-laundering centre for the world

'Mexico is its heart and London is its head'
The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court that helps a winner keep on winning

The Buddhist temple minutes from Centre Court

It helps a winner keep on winning
Is this the future of flying: battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks?

Is this the future of flying?

Battery-powered planes made of plastic, and without flight decks
Isis are barbarians – but the Caliphate is a dream at the heart of all Muslim traditions

Isis are barbarians

but the Caliphate is an ancient Muslim ideal
The Brink's-Mat curse strikes again: three tons of stolen gold that brought only grief

Curse of Brink's Mat strikes again

Death of John 'Goldfinger' Palmer the latest killing related to 1983 heist
Greece debt crisis: 'The ministers talk to us about miracles' – why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum

'The ministers talk to us about miracles'

Why Greeks are cynical ahead of the bailout referendum
Call of the wild: How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate

Call of the wild

How science is learning to decode the way animals communicate
Greece debt crisis: What happened to democracy when it’s a case of 'Vote Yes or else'?

'The economic collapse has happened. What is at risk now is democracy...'

If it doesn’t work in Europe, how is it supposed to work in India or the Middle East, asks Robert Fisk
The science of swearing: What lies behind the use of four-letter words?

The science of swearing

What lies behind the use of four-letter words?
The Real Stories of Migrant Britain: Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won't have him back

The Real Stories of Migrant Britain

Clive fled from Zimbabwe - now it won’t have him back
Africa on the menu: Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the continent

Africa on the menu

Three foodie friends want to popularise dishes from the hot new continent
Donna Karan is stepping down after 30 years - so who will fill the DKNY creator's boots?

Who will fill Donna Karan's boots?

The designer is stepping down as Chief Designer of DKNY after 30 years. Alexander Fury looks back at the career of 'America's Chanel'